The separation of Church and State
The separation of Church and State. Image: Ian Sane/Flicker/CC BY

Rick Santorum spoke Monday at the Chamber of Commerce in Livonia, Mich. There, he continued his dialogue of disdain for the separation of church and state. Despite polls that say most Americans cherish the precept that was deemed essential by the nation’s forefathers, Santorum insists that the argument is central to his campaign and to his values as a would-be leader.

Other GOP candidates rally

Santorum has been the most specifically vocal of the current GOP candidates in his condemnation of the separation of church and state, saying that the idea makes him want to “throw up.” Recently, he said the President’s own religious views are “phony.” However, Mitt Romney, a devout Mormon, often decries President Obama for his “secular agenda.” Newt Gingrich is fond of the phrase “secular left,” usually said with a sneer.

Most Americans support separation

A September poll by ABC News-Washington Post showed that Americans, 66 percent to 29 percent, agreed that
“political leaders should not rely on their religious beliefs in making policy decisions.”

Does precept protect church or state?

In Santorum’s view, the separation of church and state was important to ensure the government stays out of church business, not the other way around.

His speech Monday read in part:

“I’m for separation of church and state. The state has no business telling what the church to do. The separation of church and state that our founders believed in, which is what I just described, has now been turned on its head. And now it’s the church, people of faith, who have no right to come to the public square and express their points of view, or practice their
faith outside of their church.”

‘An Appeal to the Public for Religious Liberty’

The Reverend Isaac Backus was one of the most well-known ministers in New England in the late 18th century. His words had weight and surely were know by Thomas Jefferson and the other founders of our nation. In 1773, Backus spoke on the issue of church and state.

His sermon, “An Appeal to the Public for Religious Liberty,” read, in part:

“[When] church and state are separate, the effects are happy, and they do not at all interfere with each other. But where they have been confounded together, no tongue nor pen can fully describe the mischiefs that have ensued.”

‘God’ is not in the Constitution

The word “God” appears nowhere within the body of the Constitution. This was a specific and intentional decision reached after more than three months of debate between the drafters of our system of government. Our forefathers, with a respect for freedom of belief for all people, decided it needed to be a secular document.

The term “creator” does appear in the Declaration of Independence, and is often cited by those who argue that our
forefathers did have a Christian agenda. However, the Declaration of Independence is not a legal document. It is not the Constitution, nor is it the Bill of Rights. Its purpose was as a declaration to King George III in reaction to taxation our forefathers regarded as was unjust. It is an eloquent essay of defiance, saying we are here and we are free, and here we shall remain.

A watchdog for all beliefs

The separation of church and state is an important notion in of our system of government because it is a watchdog against ours ever becoming a theocracy; a type of government that, by definition, stifles free speech and free thought. Its purpose is not, as Santorum suggests, to keep religious people from having representation in government. Rather, it is to hinder those in power from using theological arguments to govern people who may subscribe to other systems of belief. The separation of church and state, in fact, protects religious belief from those who would impose theirs on another.


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